Posts tagged #bodhicitta

What to do in life: notes for those who have failed and are incredibly depressed

 I want to congratulate you on your devastating failure.

YAY! You've utterly failed! YESSSSS!

I am completely serious and not trying to be mean. I am truly, really, honestly happy for you. I'm thrilled, in fact.

I'm thrilled because you're an adult and you have no idea what to do in life.  Oh, it's not like  you never knew what to do.  You once did.  But Your Best Plan completely did not work.  In fact, it not only didn't work, it blew up in your face just like your face was Hiroshima and your plan was the atom bomb.  Thanks a lot, Harry Truman.

Now you're living in the nuclear winter of your discontent. You bitterly regret all that has transpired. You might feel like harming yourself.  At best, you probably feel like laying in your bed and only getting up to microwave a Hot Pocket, shove it in your face, read gossip blogs, smoke cigarettes and call your mom while hysterically crying.  At least that's all I felt like doing for six weeks when it happened to me.

That's okay.  Have all the Hot Pockets you want. But don't harm yourself.  You're a precious jewel. I don't care if you've massively fucked up.  My favorite people are the ones who have massively fucked up.  They're the really interesting ones.

So instead of hating yourself this as a way of finding what to do in life:

1) Take a moment to appreciate your uncomfortable state of being really clueless about what to do in life.  It hurts. Horrifically.  I know.

But! The fact that you're open and curious now about how to live life has put you leagues ahead of most human beings.

2) Consider how much your original plan, the one that failed so painfully and spectacularly, centered all around the effort  to gain security and pleasure and power for yourself.

This effort is called "self-cherishing." It's the act of trying to gather things up to make yourself safe and pleased.

It's pretty much everyone's default plan. The thing is, it doesn't really work. Think of how your self-cherishing has put in you in conflict with other people, especially with people that you love, and how much pain this conflict has caused you.

It's true that some people half-assedly make self-cherishing sorta kinda seem to work their whole lives.  They never wind up in the writhing state of abject misery which you now occupy.  But the thing is, they never really get the giant light bulb of freedom to go off either.  The fact that you're in total despair means you're unbelievably close, closer than all the middlingly okay people! - to genuine, deep awesomeness.

4)  Understand that you don't have to continue with your self-cherishing.

I know it doesn't feel that way.  It doesn't feel like you have an option way because you're addicted to it.  Self-cherishing is your smack, my junkie friend.  And you've overdosed.  It's either get clean now, die ingloriously, or dwell in derelection.

So know that you really can try something else.  Something very radically different.

It's called "other-cherishing" and it's the act of devoting yourself to the well-being of others rather than to the service of your own pleasure and comfort.

Hmmmmmmmm. I can tell if you're anything like me you're probably not too keen on this idea.

5) Don't feel bad that your mind immediately recoils at the thought of other-cherishing.

My mind recoiled intensely from it for years. "But I'm a human being, too! Who's going to cherish me?  If I devote myself to serving others, I'll just be taken advantage of and nothing good will be left for me.  Besides, there's way too many people out there, human suffering is too overwhelming.  There's nothing I can do that would truly benefit everyone."

6) Contemplate this answers to your objection: if you give up self-cherishing, the whole universe will cherish you.

The universe freaking LOVES people who are earnestly surrendering their self-cherishing more than preteen girls love Justin Bieber.  And that is a lot of love, guys.

Why? Because that's what life, the universe, and everything have wanted you to do all along.  Once you start to give up self-cherishing, everything else you do becomes massively easier and takes on much greater, more satisfying meaning. Synchronicities start whirling and the blessings start raining down.  They were there waiting for you.  But in the past they were too repelled by your grasping and greed.  Grasping and greed are repulsive.  They repel good fortune.

And also, actually, there is something you can do to benefit everyone.  You can liberate yourself from your own self-cherishing. I know I may be sounding repetitive here, but listen. This is massively, hugely beneficial.  It's so beneficial that the human race joyously celebrates for thousands of years people who have done it, people like Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the Buddha and Rumi and Mirabai and St. Francis.   You can wake up from your nightmare of chasing security and pleasure.  As soon as you do this, you'll no longer generate conflicts everywhere you go.  Instead you'll create joy and be a place of kind refuge and calm for others.

To understand this, just consider how much pain others have given you when they've behaved in self-centered, self-cherishing ways and trampled over your feelings.  Your own self-cherishing has caused at least that much pain for others.  If you relinquish it, you'll stop causing that pain.  You won't be irritable and easily offended.  Instead, you'll be welcoming and warm to be around.  Folks won't have to tip-toe on egg shells around you.  They'll feel honored and loved in your presence.  And this means there's a good chance that they will be inspired to surrender their own self-cherishing just by knowing you.  They'll succeed, and then they'll go around inspiring others to do the same.  Everyone will get freer and freer, safer and safer, happier and happier.  It's a virtuous circle.

Literally, you can deeply contribute to everyone waking up from the nightmare.

7) Consider that your belief that you can't give up self-cherishing isn't true.

I certainly used to believe that giving it up was impossible- I could see that it would be theoretically great to be able to let go of my self-centeredness, but I just had no notion how to do that.

At some level, I didn't really want to learn because I still thought I could make self-cherishing work for me.  Well, that turned out to be assuredly not the case.

Happily for you and for me, the processes for ending self-cherishing do exist if you've had enough of your confused pain and you're willing to try something radically different.  The four immeasurables cultivation and tonglen are a great place to start and can go a very long way to rubbing out your self-cherishing. Try them yourself.

8) Seriously.  Tell yourself that every day for a month you'll do four immeasurables cultivation and the meditation on exchanging yourself with others.

And then do it.  Make it a higher priority than watching cute cat videos on youtube.

9) The more you do those practices, the more clear everything else will become.

Your whole mental and emotional make up will shift.  Your perception will no longer be so distorted.  Your creativity will activate like never before.  You'll know what to do.

10) Write to me and tell me how it's going: sweetsongofjoy at gmail dot com.  I would love to know.

 

 

Dream Yoga Journal: Day 2

Okay, so my dream yoga process is going slow and steady.  I'm following Rinpoche Wangyal Tenzin's suggestions in The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep to the best of my ability.

 

What this entails:

1) Practicing, during my waking hours, becoming aware that my waking life is itself a dream. Because the whole point of Tibetan dream yoga, as I gather, is to become fully lucid - i.e., a Buddha - not just lucid in one's night time dreams.

2) Practicing zinhe, or calm-abiding meditation. Which is really hard for me. I get super-antsy when I'm told to just "follow my breath." I could do brahma-vihara practice for hours... but breath-watching... yeesh.  This is how I know I'm getting serious about the whole bodhisattva trip ("meditative concentration" is one of the 6 perfections that bodhisattvas need to cultivate in order to fulfill their mission), because I could never be persuaded to do this sheerly for my own benefit.  It's sooooo boring.

3) Doing a breathing exercise before bed designed to gather the awareness in the central channel of the body, which I'm pretty sure is known as the sushumna in sanskrit.  I totally forget the Tibetan word for it.

4) Doing my rather half-assed version of guru yoga. It's a meditation that involves imagining that one is receiving blesings from one's guru and mind-heart-melding with her.  I don't yet have an official guru to yoga with, but I'm very fond of Lama Thubten Yeshe because of his fantastic Introduction to Tantra which blew my mind, so I'm working with imagining him in the mean time. I think he's cool with it.

5) Imagining that I'm surrounded by protective dakinis as a fall asleep.  Dakinis are enlightened tantric lady-beings.  Actually, I've been imagining that I'm surrounded by whatever the male version of dakinis is.  Dakas, or something like that? I find it a bit more reassuring. Not that ladies aren't tough, but I'm trying to work with my deep-seated conditioning here.

6) Imagining that there's a glowing four-petaled red lotus on my throat chakra, with a radiant Tibetan letter A in the center.

7) Telling myself that I intend to remember my dreams and be lucid.

Dream Yoga Progress

So far, I haven't gotten close to becoming lucid - but it's only Day 2, so that seems fine. And my dreams have been a little on the side of ho-hum.

Like, last night I dreamt that all these dudes were hitting on me and trying to woo me with kale-flavored ice cream.  Lately, a bunch of dudes have indeed been hitting on me (note to dudes: I'm celibate this year and only interested in being friends, it's truly nothing personal), and I've been eating a ton of kale, so I think that qualifies as what the dream yoga tradition calls a "samsaric" dream - a dream that's just made up of karmic traces playing themselves out in the free-wheeling realm of sleep.

Samsaric dreams can be useful in that they reflect to us pretty explicitly what we're thinking and feeling.  They do this at a more intense level than we may be able to allow ourselves to see in waking life.  They make it hard to deny the forces of desire or aversion in ourselves, for example.  But they don't contain any super-profound truths or revelations.

Truths and revelations are the realm of what the dream yoga tradition calls "clear light" dreams.  Clear light dreams come from a deeper place than just our own personal karmic residues.  They come out of a place that includes the collective unconscious and the teachings of nonphysical beings.  Which is, you know, rad. They often involve clairvoyant perception of some sort.

We all experience clear light dreams randomly at times in our lives.  As I gather, the point of the first stage of dream yoga is to increase the frequency with which we enter into clear light dreams, decrease the samsaric dreams, and gradually become lucid within the clear light dreams.

So I'll keep you posted.  In the mean time, got any lucid dreaming tips for me?

 

image: [Wonderlane]

Posted on January 26, 2013 and filed under Dream Yoga.

How to be an Optimist: See Life as a Dream

A young man wrote to me about his own pessimism (co-occuring with a scientific attitude toward life) and asked me what spurs on my optimism.  I wrote this reply:

Optimism and Transcendentalism

I guess a long time ago in my philosophical searchings I examined the kind of scientific materialist attitude you seem to be describing and.... utterly rejected it. I'm a transcendentalist - which means I see the world and everything in it (including my own self) as a kind of deep holographic dream projected by "my" consciousness (I put "my" it quotes because it's "mine" in the sense that I can make choices that influence it, but it's not mine in the sense that there ultimately is no me since "Carolyn" is just another part of the dream.... sorry if that's hard to follow, it gets a little complex).

Changing the Dream

The reason all this transcendentalism adds up to optimism is this: if everything is a dream, then it can change from a terrible dream into a beautiful dream. Whether the dream is beautiful or terrible depends on what angle of light, or motivation, I'm sending through the hologram projector (my brain). If I'm sending the self-centered motivation of gathering up pleasure and security and power just for myself, then I'm going to be faced with a hologram of an utterly ugly, difficult, barren and horrible world. I'll be in endless conflict with the people around me. I'll be miserable. I've spent years living in that "reality" and it's awful. I've also dipped down into that recently - I was hugely depressed and suicidal. I had lost my way and wound myself into a big mess of compassionless horror.

Generating Awake-heart aka Bodhicitta

On the other hand, I've found that if I'm sending the other-cherishing motivation of being committed to bringing all creatures into happiness (i.e., non-attached and unending bliss, freedom from addiction and craving) and I'm willing to project limitless loving-kindness (i.e., deliberately being willing to love and wish happiness for people I don't like and resent, being willing to delight in their triumphs and to work to spare them from pain)...

...well, then the hologram becomes beautiful, synchronous, full of joy and meaning and connection.

Life becomes easy and I find I can fulfill my basic needs and my big aspirations without much worry. I mean, there are still so many challenges - but the challenges are fascinating instead of frightening. It's not like hunger and war and tragedy and sickness and misfortune disappear from the dream - but they don't oppress me in the same way. Instead there's a light within me that is willing to take responsibility for healing all that pain in the world and in myself.

And ultimately, I think, this process of lightening and en-blissening just goes on and on until the dream becomes very transparent and dissolves entirely, leaving the consciousness in Nirvana or the Kingdom of Heaven or what-have-you.

My optimism is essentially this: that it's possible for everyone, including myself, to dwell in ecstatic happiness, and that there are things I can do to bring that about... and the very process of working to bring this about is incredibly fulfilling and fun. It's basically Mahayana / Vajranya Buddhism but I like to spice it up by thinking a lot about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

I don't know if those are flavors of Buddhism that you've investigated, but I sure love them. I've also been influenced strongly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Don Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie.

Man, I could go on and on. I'm sure I've used some shorthand in explaining this that doesn't make sense and sounds very fluffy. But I assure you, it all makes razor-sharp sense in my mind.

Warmth,

Carolyn

image: [seyed mostafa zamani]

How to Experience Less Miserable Pain

Lately, I've been pretty good at making messes.  Big, ugly messes that involve hurting other people and embarrassing myself profoundly.

Ugh.

The more I study up on the brahma-viharas, the more it makes sense to me why I was able to create - so lavishly! - the messes that I did.

It's because of my intentions.

Not that my intentions in the recent past months were terrible. I wasn't waking up in the morning saying to myself, "Gee whiz, what can I do to hurt others today?" But I was living with a mind that teemed with envy and lust and I was concerned very much with "getting what I need to be happy / good enough."  In other words, I was living in self-centeredness (or self-cherishing, as my Tibetan pals like to call it) without even fully realizing it.

This is something rather basic that it's taken a long time for me to fully understand: even if I'm not seeking actively to hurt others, I can still hurt others very effectively when my primary motive is to further my own pleasure and security.  I tend to laser-in on that goal of "my own pleasure and security" with a magnetic focus that blinds me both to many facets of reality and to the feelings of those my actions might affect.

"So the first lesson of karma is that if you really want to be happy you can't trust that deep down you know the right thing to do, because that would foster complacency. Unskillful intentions would take over and you wouldn't even know it. Instead, you have to be heedful to recognize unskillful intentions for what they are and to act only on skillful ones. The way to ensure you'll stay heedful is to take your desire for happiness and spread it around." - Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas

Hmmmm.  That just about sums up my experience.  It gives me great hope that Bhikkhu emphasizes that we can make ourselves more skillful at producing real happiness (as opposed to just pleasure that turns all-too-rapidly into pain) by "taking our desire for happiness and spreading it around."  Because I can do that!

That's what metta meditation is.

It's a fairly basic axiom of spiritual development that if we want to live a good life we should try to be less self-centered.  I don't think that I really understood the full import of that, though, until I read these words of the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso in Bodhicitta: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment

Our self-centeredness is an attachment directed toward the self which we have been generating spontaneously from time without beginning.  It is this which is the real enemy, this which is the actual embodiment of evil.  We are mesmerized by it, as a child is by a brightly colored object. And while it seems to promise so much for us, it is actually wholly destructive.  It thrusts us into the suffering of the three lower realms, and we can see that if in this present existence its power becomes overbearing it can lead us into unending conflicts and will eventually cost us this life.

Conversely the other-cherishing attitude is an extraordinarily positive intention which arises from correct logical reasoning.  It is only our own failure to practice which stands in our way.  If we did cultivate it, that would signify the onset of everything worthwhile.  The relationship between the two attitudes is similar to the relationship between the attractive light in which the respective minds of attachment and affectionate love view others.  Though they share the characteristic of seeing others in an appealing form, from every other viewpoint - attention, function, and effect - they are totally opposed to one another.

Well hot-damn.  That really drove home to me what my problem has been - and what caused me so much pain in my last romantic drama - that I was inhabiting lustful attachment instead of affectionate love.  That my attachment was part of delusional self-cherishing – and not even really "love" at all, because real love is non-grasping and other-cherishing.

For very many years I resisted the elementary notion that valuing others above myself is the way to go.  "Oh, that's just being a doormat, that's just the way to be used, that's clap-trap designed to hypnotize people into sacrificing themselves for nationalistic, patriarchal or religious purposes," I thought to myself, "I won't go in for that - I'll help others but I'll keep my own well-being the priority so as not to over-extend myself. I'll make sure I get my own security and pleasure and status first and think about others in my spare time, after I get all my ducks lined up."

Well, as I'm now understanding, the most efficient way of fostering my own real well-being (i.e., deep peace of mind, sense of meaningfulness, authentic joy) is to do just this thing that my ego recoils from so very much: be willing to value and concern myself with the well-being of others more than with my own.

Through doing metta bhavana everyday, I'm even beginning to intuit the reason why life and karma do indeed work this way: because the world is a projection of mind, other beings aren't really separate from me - they're actually the greater part of me.  My ego-character is just a little sliver of the hologram - "others" are the rest of it. When I'm wishing that all beings be happy, I'm actually wishing happiness for my whole self instead of for just a little delusional sliver of myself.

In other words - when I wish good things for you, dear reader, I'm actually wishing good things for me - because you are me and I am you and we are all together. Koo-koo-ka-choo.

httpv://youtu.be/RG73Pk1yUj8

What are your thoughts on self-cherishing vs. other-cherishing?

 

image: [Keith Williamson]

Love is What Makes Life Awesome / "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone"

What is an awesomed life? It has more to do with love than coconut oil.

 

I'm aware that the title of this blog and of my book can sound a little ridiculously upbeat.  "Awesome Your Life" -- like, hmmmm? What's that supposed to mean?

 

Does it mean living on a beach, working 4 hours a week, being regularly massaged with coconut oil by sultry servants?

 

In my experience -- not so much.

 

To me, an awesomed life isn't a life that's brimming with luxury and prestige.  It isn't the inflated capitalist magazine-gloss dream that's only available to people who make massive amounts of money.

 

Instead, it's...

 

A life that's burgeoning with radically all-embracing love, community and creativity.

 

Somedays, I forget this.  I look at my tiny (but adequate) bank account, tiny apartment, and think "I must be doing this wrong."

 

But other days something happens that snaps me out of my negative trance and shows me-- no, I'm doing it pretty darn right and my life is indeed incredibly awesomed.

 

Just this kind of snapping happened on my birthday this year.  My friends gathered together and surprised me with their rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" -- in reference to the month I spent away from them in India when everyday in our hometown of Pittsburgh (so they tell me) was grey.

 

They met in secret to practice the song complete with accordion, guitar, voice and tambourine parts.

 

It sounded amazing. They gave me the best birthday present ever by performing it to me in the very same tiny, cramped apartment that the mean and incorrect part of me sometimes uses as evidence that I'm a loser. Check it out:

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt-RzLiM07Q&feature=BFa&list=UURgQm6XbQSl01KLvxXBDoxg&lf=plcp

 

I mention this not to brag (I'm so adored! Look at ME!) but because my ability as a life coach is tied to my own personal experience and accomplishment. I can't guide you on how to set up a trouble-free existence with mad cash in a tropical paradise because I haven't done that.

 

I can, however, help you work through what holds you back from forming deep connections with others and enjoying a life filled with art and meaning. You might want to check out the stuff people say about me to see what that entails.

 

Love!

Carolyn